Nestled deep in the eastern Himalayas between India and China, Bhutan with its magnificent mountains, dense forest, delightful people, pure air, imposing architecture, mystical religion and interesting arts and culture is certainly a privileged land. The simple pleasure that this country offers gives a sense of kinship with the people and a love for the land. This pristine beauty of heavenly abode in the mountains make Bhutan a true Shangrila, a mythical country exuding charm and casting its spell around those visiting the Kingdom. The land of the thunder dragon is a trekker’s paradise and an environmentalist’s dream.
In a age when the entire world is concerned about the irrecoverable loss of its ecology, Bhutan emerges as a fine example with more than 60% of its terrain still under rich forest coverage. Rare species of plant life abound as the heavy tropical jungles gradually gives way to the mixed temperate region and then the high alpine areas.
Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and new. Here is a country that is slowly opening up to the modern world in fine balance with its ancient traditions.
Those fortunate enough to visit Bhutan describe it as a unique, deeply spiritual and mystical experience. This kingdom is an adventure like no other!
The three relief zones (the foothills, the central Himalayan valleys and the High Himalayas) also define three climatic regions: tropical, temperate with monsoon and alpine with monsoon. The southern part of Bhutan is tropical and the east of Bhutan is warmer than the west. The central valleys of Punakha, Wangdiphodrang, Monggar, Trashigang and lhuntse enjoy a semi-tropical climate with very cool winter while Thimphu, Trongsa and Bumthang have a much harsher climate with heavy monsoon rains in the summer and heavy snowfall in the winter. Winter in Bhutan starts from (mid-November till mid-March), the climate is dry with the daytime temperature falling between 16-18C (60-65F) and night temperature falling below zero. The spring season (mid March to mid June) offers warmer temperatures falling between 27-29C (80-84F). Monsoon usually arrives in mid-June, with light rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings. The best season for trekking is in autumn which arrives at the end of September which will then last until mid-November.
The only mode of travel within the country is by road. The roads are single lane paved highways that connects Bhutan from east to west and north to south.
|From / To||Distance||Travel Time|
|Thimphu – Paro||54 km||1 hr|
|Thimphu – Phuntsholing||176 km||6 hrs|
|Phuntsholing – Bagdogra (India)||170 km||4 hrs|
|Thimphu – Ha||115 km||3 hrs 30 min|
|Ha – Paro||60 km||2 hrs 30 min|
|Thimphu – Wangdue Phodrang||70 km||2 hrs|
|Thimphu – Punakha||77 km||2 hrs 15 min|
|Punakha – Wangdue Phodrang||21 km||30 min|
|Wangdue Phodrang – Trongsa||129 km||4 hrs|
|Trongsa – Bumthang||68 km||2 hrs 30 min|
|Bumthang – Mongar||129 km||4 hrs|
|Mongar – Trashigang||90 km||3 hrs|
|Trashigang – Trashi Yangtse||55 km||2 hrs|
Bhutan time is 6 hours ahead of GMT and there is only one time zone throughout the country.
No vaccinations are currently required for travelling into Bhutan. However it is advisable to have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A shots
Avoid drinking unboiled water. Tobacco/Smoking: Buying and selling of tobacco products are banned in Bhutan. Visitors may bring in 200 cigarettes for their own consumption, on payment of import duty of 200%.
All visitors are advised to get their own medical/travel or any other relevant insurance before visiting Bhutan as we do not have this facility here.
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.), with 100 Chetrum = 1 Ngultrum. The Ngultrum is fixed to the value of Indian rupee. Tourists are advised to carry their money in the form of travellers checks (preferably American Express) and cash (US dollars would be best) which might be used for incidental purchases/expenses. Credit cards are accepted in some places. Visa and American Express credit cards are more widely accepted than Master cards.
Most hotels in Bhutan are 2-3 star and a few luxury 4 & 5 star accommodation are also available (Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang). The standard accommodations all offer the necessary facilities, and are properly maintained. Generally speaking, hotels in western Bhutan are better equipped, while accommodation establishments in the central and eastern part of the country are more modest, with fewer amenities. Tashi Tours & Travels has carefully selected the list of accommodation units with the best of location, service and ambience. Away from the towns and villages, there are purpose-built cabins on some of the principal trekking routes. But there is nothing like camping out in the forest or at the foot of a mountain! Wherever you spend the night, the warm Bhutanese hospitality will make you feel welcome.
Traditional Bhutanese food is hot and spicy. However to suite your needs, Chinese, Indian, and Continental dishes are also available. The more adventurous can try the local delicacies like the tasty and fiery national dish of Bhutan, Emma Datshi which is made with chillies and local Bhutanese cheese. Meals are normally served buffet style in the hotels. Please give some advance notice of any special dietary requirements so that we can make appropriate arrangements when the catering team assembles provisions. All meals while you trek or visit in Bhutan are also included in the daily tour cost.
In Bhutan, electricity runs on 220/240 volts, with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. In Thimphu, electrical appliance shops stock adapter plugs, but they are unlikely to be available elsewhere.
Internet cafes are more widespread in western part of Bhutan and IDD calling booths can be found even in the remote far east of the country. IDD calls may be made and received at most accommodations used by Tashi Tours & Travels, and internet facilities are readily accessible.
Due to the wide range of temperature and climatic conditions it is advisable to dress in layers. For protection against cold, layered clothing is better than one or two thick garments. Clothing should preferably be made from natural materials, which allow the body to breathe. You will be offending people if you walk around in skimpy or tight fitting clothes. Shorts are not welcomed and women are advised to wear below the knee skirts or fairly loose trousers. Dress modestly and respectfully for visits to monasteries, dzongs and other religious institutions. Hats, caps etc. should be removed before entering the premises.
Bring comfortable sport shoes for light hikes & sightseeing; hiking boots for treks; semi formal shoes for dinners/appointments/functions.
We provide clean but used sleeping bags and foam mats, you can bring your own bring sleeping bag and thermal mats if you prefer ; comfortable trekking boots which have already been broken in and plenty of pairs of socks, noting that woollen socks dry quicker than cotton ones. Also bring a water bottle and plastic bags for packing clothing while on trek, as plastic bags are banned in Bhutan. Others: Sunglasses/spare glasses, knife, hat, umbrella, camera, films and accessories (including spare camera batteries), insect repellent, hand cream, small sewing kit & safety pins, flash light (w/spare batteries), mirror, scissors, sun cream, sun burn relief cream, lip salve, soluble aspirin, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, anti-diarrhoea pills, altitude & car sickness medicine and any medication you take regularly, or might need to take for a periodically recurring condition, such as asthma.
Outdoor photography is usually permitted, but taking photographs inside shrine rooms of Dzongs, Monasteries and religious institutions is prohibited. Please check with your guide before taking any photographs. While taking photographs of local people, their houses and shops etc always make sure you ask by gesture if it is alright to do so.
Hand-woven textiles, carved masks, woven baskets, wooden bowls, handmade paper products, finely crafted metal objects, thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps are the items mostly purchased by travellers in Bhutan. The buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden.
Tipping is not mandatory rather its a choice you make after you decide . You can always decide how much to tip by asking yourself how much Tashi Tours & Travels as your travel partner has performed, to make your travel a memorable and exciting experience.
Visitors are required to complete a passenger declaration form for checking by concerned officers on arrival. The following articles are exempt from duty:
The articles mentioned under (d) & (e) must be declared on the declaration form. If any such items are disposed of in Bhutan by sale or gift, they are liable for customs duty.
On departure, visitors are required to surrender their forms to the Customs authorities. Import/export restrictions of the following goods is strictly prohibited
Bhutan’s early history is steeped in mythology and remains obscure. It may have been inhabited as early as 2000 B.C., but not much was known until the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism in the 9th century A.D. when turmoil in Tibet forced many monks to flee to Bhutan. In the 12th century A.D., the Drukpa Kagyupa school was established and remains the dominant form of Buddhism in Bhutan today. The country’s political history is intimately tied to its religious history and the relations among the various monastic schools and monasteries. Bhutan is one of the only countries which has been independent throughout its history, never conquered, occupied, or governed by an outside power. Although there has been speculation that it was under the Kamarupa Kingdom or the Tibetan Empire in the 7th to 9th centuries, firm evidence is lacking.
From the time historical records are clear, Bhutan has continuously and successfully defended its sovereignty. The consolidation of Bhutan occurred in 1616 when Ngawanag Namgyal, a man (lama) from Tibet, defeated three Tibetan invasions, subjugated rival religious schools, codified an intricate and comprehensive system of law, and established himself as ruler (Shabdrung) over a system of ecclesiastical and civil administrators. After his death, infighting and civil war eroded the power of the shabdrung for the next 200 years when in 1885, Ugyen Wangchuck was able to consolidate power and cultivated closer ties with the British in India. In 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as the hereditary ruler of Bhutan, crowned on December 17, 1907, and installed as the head of state Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King).
In 1910, King Ugyen and the British signed the Treaty of Punakha which provided that British India would not interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan if the country accepted external advice in its external relations. When Ugyen Wangchuck died in 1926, his son Jigme Wangchuck became the next ruler, and when India gained independence in 1947, the new Indian Government recognized Bhutan as an independent country.
In 1949, India and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which provided that India would not interfere in Bhutan’s internal affairs but would be guided by India in its foreign policy. Succeeded in 1952 by his son Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Bhutan began to slowly emerge from its isolation and began a program of planned development. Bhutan became a member of the United Nations in 1971, and the National Assembly was established and a new code of law, as well as the Royal Bhutanese Army and the High Court.
In 1972, Jigme Singye Wanchuck ascended the throne at age 16. He emphasized modern education, decentralization of governance, the development of hydroelectricity and tourism and improvements in rural developments. He was perhaps best known internationally for his overarching development philosophy of “Gross National Happiness.” It recognizes that there are many dimensions to development and that economic goals alone are not sufficient. Satisfied with Bhutan’s transitioning democratization process, he abdicated in December 2006 rather than wait until the promulgation of the new constitution in 2008. His son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, became King upon his abdication.
Bhutan is the only country in the world where Buddhism is the official religion and is endorsed by the government. Buddhism is practiced through out the country. All most all the Bhutanese are Buddhist. Approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of the population practice Drukpa Kagyupa or Ningmapa Buddhism, both of which are disciplines of Mahayana Buddhism. Approximately one-quarter of the population is ethnic Nepalese and practice Hinduism. Christians and non-religious groups comprise less than 1 percent of the population. Before the arrival of Buddhism to Bhutan, various forms of animistic religion such as bonism were followed by people in Bhutan. In some parts of the country, we can still see, these traditions and rituals are still practiced by minority groups. Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 8th century. After this, Bhutan has become home to many sages and saints. Some of the key figures of the Bhutanese Buddhism are Kuenkhen Longchen Ramjam, Phojo Drukgom Zhigpo, Drukpa Kuenley, Zhabdrung Ngwang Namgyel and Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye.
Bhutanese architecture is a unique and exquisite example of the craftsmanship of the people of Bhutan. Jampa Lhakhang in Bumthang valley or Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro valley are build during the period of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo are the first recorded buildings in the history of Bhutan. Later on many monasteries were built in between the 13th and 17th centuries. Among the most active temple-builders in the 15th century were Ngawang Choegyal, the great grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, and Tertoen Pema Lingpa.
Bhutan’s artistic tradition has its roots in Buddhism with almost all representation in the arts running along the prevailing theme of struggle between good and evil. Bhutanese art is mostly symbolic. It is highly decorative and ornamental. The Buddhist nature of Bhutan’s artistic heritage may be traced to Pema Lingpa, the great 15th Century terton (treasure discoverer), who was an accomplished painter, sculptor, xylographer, and architect. In 1680, Desi Tenzin Rabgye opened the school of Zorig Chusum to teach 13 types of Bhutanese arts and crafts under the instruction of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Such promotion of traditional Bhutanese art has been preserved through the centuries, with continued patronage provided by the Royal family, nobility and clergy. The common people, who depend on the artisans for a wide variety of metal and wooden objects indispensable to typical Bhutanese households, provide active support to the arts.The artist is often a religious man who creates the work commissioned by a Jinda or patron.
Paintings and sculpture are made by groups of artists working in special workshops executed by monks or laymen. The basic preliminary work is done by the disciples, after which the master carries out the finishing touch of fine details.
The 13 types of Bhutanese arts and crafts are:
The arts and crafts continue to thrive despite a small tourist market. Much of this is due to the government’s support and emphasis on the preservation of culture and tradition.
Festivals in Bhutan are celebrated as religious rituals, they are held on ground which is purified and consecrated by religious heads. All participants of the religious rituals are either monks or laymen. It is said that they perform in a complete state of meditation helping them transform themselves into the deities which they represent in various dances. Bhutanese believe that the performers generate a spiritual power, which cleanses, purifies, enlightens and blesses each and everyone witnessing the ceremony. It should be understood that disrespectful or impolite behaviour is unacceptable to the Bhutanese people while observing festivals within the country. Please note to observe common courtesy in your actions when taking pictures of dances or locals attending the festivals. It is important to note that festivals are not entertainment events and they are not held as tourist attractions. Bhutanese are proud of their festivals and value them with their highest respect for they are genuine manifestations of religious traditions, thousands of years old which outsiders are given the privilege of witnessing. We would appreciate to see that this privilege is respected, without damaging the beauty and sacredness of the rituals.
Bhutan has rich and diverse flora and fauna with over 70 percent forest coverage and wide range of altitude and climate. Forest types include Fir forests, mixed conifer forest blue pine, Chirpine forest, and broad leaf mixed with conifer, upland hardwood forest, lowland hardwood and tropical lowland forests. Bhutan can be divided into three ecological zones:
The southern foothills, which is situated in Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation. The Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests covers most parts of the country; and The Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover, at the northern Himalayan regions.
Over 60 percent of the common plant species of the Eastern Himalayas are found in Bhutan. The forest type consists of mixed conifer forest, fir forest chirpine forest, blue pine forest, broadleaf mixed with conifers, tropical lowland forests, lowland hardwood forest and upland hardwood forest. Bhutan has a very rich species of flora ranging from altitudes as low as 200m to as high as 4000m. Over 5500 species of vascular plants have been recorded till date including 46 species of Rhododendrons and 369 species of Orchids. The Bhutan Himalayas is also important source of valuable medicinal plants used in ayurvedic medicine so much so that a National Institute of Traditional Medicine has been established at Thimphu. High altitude in Bhutan is home to animals like Snow leopard, blue sheep, red panda, tiger, takin, marmot and musk deer. Temperate zone fauna include Tiger, leopard, goral, gray langur, Himalayan black beer, red panda, sambur, wild pig, and barking deer. The tropical forests in the south have tiger, clouded leopard, elephants, one horned Rhinoceros, water buffalo, golden langur, gaur, swamp deer, hog deer horn bills etc. Black necked crane, Green-backed tit, Plumbeous water Redstart and Oriental Turtle Dove are some of the popular birds found in Bhutan.
Over the years, Bhutan has cultivated a unique approach to development with its national philosophy anchored to the principle of Gross national happiness (GNH) which was coined by the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, His majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. It refers to a set of social and economic interventions that evaluate societal change in terms of the collective happiness of people and that lead to the adoption of policies aimed at that objective. Premised on the belief that all human beings aspire happiness in one way or another, the concept promotes collective happiness of the society as the ultimate goal of development. Bhutan believes that the holistic development of the individual and society can be achieved only through a sustainable balance between the economic, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs of the people. Development initiatives based on GNH values are therefore not restricted to the present population of any given society; it includes future generations and other societies, indeed all sentient beings. GNH has been Bhutan’s overarching development philosophy that has guided the country’s development policies and programs. Guided by this policy, the country has made rapid development in a short period of time. Achievements have come with very minimal impact on its culture and environment. The government of Bhutan implemented these policies through strict adherence to the four pillars which includes equitable and sustainable socio-economic development; preservation and promotion of its culture, conservation of environment and promotion of good governance. Courtesy: facts about Bhutan Lily Wangchuck The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.